PTSD is a difficult topic to grasp. Every case is different, and over all our understanding of the human mind just isn’t that good. Recently there has been a trend, a result of the Iraq war most likely, towards rear-stationed troops demonstrating similar post war PTSD rates as front-liners. It would seem that the cause of this condition is is not only in major traumas involving death and killing. It is also present in the day to day operations of relatively safe bases.
This is not my speculation, but that of Sebastian Junger in his book “Tribe – Homecoming and reunion”. In the book he makes the case that separation from one’s fellow soldiers is in itself a significant trauma, and responsible for at least some of the cases of PTSD upon returning from war. This is because the bonds between soldiers becomes so strong that departure from a deployment feels like leaving a family behind. Or, more aptly in the metaphor of book, leaving one’s tribe.
The importance of this is that the very brotherhood the soldiers form, and is so damaging to leave, is the result of a conscious and concerted effort on the part of military’s training system. Such strong bonds are not only needed to improve teamwork and cooperation, they are needed to impel soldiers to kill.
Getting soldiers to actually kill has been notoriously difficult throughout history. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing” is a study of the tremendous resistance the average soldier has towards killing, even in the face of his own death. The only time soldiers seem to be liberated to kill without compunction in in the setting of an atrocity. When the soldiers feel their enemy is sufficiently “Other” or not fully human, they lose their resistance to killing and fall in line with social pressure or orders to do so.
This othering tactic is well known and has been implemented to varying success throughout the history of warfare. Only now in the modern era has is been perfected, not through propaganda and hate for the enemy, but through team building and bonding with one’s fellow soldiers. The reasoning does like this: The stronger the bonds between the soldiers, the more “other” all outsiders appear.
It’s wildly effective and todays troops have successfully been conditioned to execute their jobs, killing if need be, without the same turmoil as previous generations. The downside to this camaraderie is that it isolates the soldiers utterly. Not only does the enemy becomes more distant and less human, but friends and family back home do so as well.
A return back home is not a return to normalcy for the conditioned soldier. It is being torn away from the only world he knows and thrown back into an alien planet with people and places he is only partially bonded with. This creates the massive culture shock of returning from deployment, and in turn the high incidence of PTSD.
TO further this problem, returning soldiers find that there is no analogue for the camaraderie of the military. They leave a highly concentrated form of tribalism and loyalty to return to a disparate world of individualism. No longer possessing the tools, or perhaps having been given a taste of something more satisfying, they struggle to reintegrate.
The military can’t and wont give up this form of conditioning for its soldiers. THe civilian world will continue to be an increasingly individualist place. Thus, PTSD is an endemic and inexorable part of modern warfare.